Page last updated at 11:56 GMT, Monday, 15 March 2010

How guerrilla gardening took root

By Mark Fraser
Step Up, BBC Scotland

Guerrilla gardeners in Glasgow have been liberating derelict and barren land in the city and turning it into gardens. BBC Scotland takes a look at the history of movement.

Bowery Garden 1973
The Bowery Garden circa 1973

The roots of guerrilla gardening can be traced back to New York in 1973.

Artist Liz Christy, who lived in the city's Lower East Side, assembled her friends and neighbours to clean out and take back an abandoned lot on the corner of Bowery and Houston.

Dubbing themselves the Green Guerrillas they removed the rubbish and revitalised the soil, planting flowers, trees and edibles, while offering gardening workshops.

Liz Christy took to petitioning the city's Housing and Preservation Department to make their newly-created garden - which they called the Bowery Garden - an official community garden.

To this day it remains, taken care of by the Green Guerrillas and volunteers.

It is now recognised by the city as an established community garden.

The history of illicit gardening in Britain goes back centuries, starting with "the Diggers" - a 17th Century group who fought for the right to cultivate land.

Bowery Garden present day.
How the Bowery Garden looks today

Some say that the origins of guerrilla gardening in the modern age can be traced back to the hippie movement in the 1960s.

More recently, a statue of Winston Churchill was given an impromptu grass mohawk during the May Day riots in London in 2000.

But it was not until Richard Reynolds decided to create a blog about his "illicit cultivations around London" in 2004 that it started to become a community in the UK.

In 2008 Mr Reynolds cemented his status as the de facto figurehead of the guerrilla gardening movement by writing a book titled On Guerrilla Gardening.

Not a manifesto as such, it gives a detailed history of guerrilla gardening as well as stories he has picked up on his travels visiting other guerrilla gardeners around the world.

Unconventional weapons

The movement has spread its seeds far and wide, with "cells" existing in places as far flung as Australia and Brazil.

Indeed, any country that has a community of obsessive gardeners is likely to have an underground community of guerrillas, taking back public space.

The "seed bomb" is one of the more unconventional weapons they use, alongside the more traditional watering cans, shovels, trowels, pitchforks, plants and seeds.

Green grenade, seed bomb 1973
The seed bomb of 1973 was known as the "green grenade"

Primarily aimed to be used in areas where guerrilla gardeners are unable to cultivate land by themselves - be it through fear of reprisal for hanging around one place too long or in a place where they simply cannot reach - the seed bomb contains all the vital elements for plant life to begin.

The current seed bomb is a far cry from the green grenades that were used when the movement began in 1973.

Back then, they contained water, peat moss, fertilizer and seeds encased in Christmas decorations and water balloons.

Nowadays there is more than one design and they are more environmentally conscious, using peat-free compost and organic fertilisers.

The most common type of seed bomb is the clay seed ball. These can be created at home using a mixture of clay soil, compost, seeds and water and can be moulded into any shape.

As times change so does the sophistication of the weaponry, and the latest innovation in seed bomb design has come from Glasgow-based studio Kabloom.

THE MODERN SEED BOMB
Seedbom
Contains peat moss, organic fertilizer and seeds
Contents held in a biodegradable grenade shaped shell
Unlike the green grenades, they use rain water to grow

These new, more environmentally-friendly "SeedBoms" were created by Darren Wilson, who became involved in the Glasgow guerrilla gardening movement after finding out about it during research for the product.

He created his own grenade-shaped version which is made using recycled materials alongside the ingredients needed to grow the flowers.

"It's a bit fun, a bit quirky - a bit different. It's all about the fun, all about the interaction and making an impact... anyone can use these," he said.

Darren has gone on to become an integral part of the guerrilla gardening cell in Glasgow, alongside founders Jennifer Calder and Michael Gallacher.

While the actions of guerrilla gardeners are technically illegal, as they are transforming land which does not belong to them, the Glasgow group has won the endorsement of the local city council.

The head of the local authority's land and environmental services division, Stevie Scott, has given encouragement to the movement.

The council cannot afford to revitalise every bit of barren space in Glasgow, but is happy to support the guerrilla gardeners in their efforts to bring more colour back to the "dear green place".



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